Here’s what hurricane categories mean — and how much damage to expect
Q: What are the names and locations of the most destructive and deadly hurricanes in U.S. history? J.K.
A: The National Weather Service says hurricanes are “among nature’s most powerful and destructive phenomena.” Storm surge flooding, winds, flooding, tornadoes, rip currents and high surf can all occur during hurricanes.
These phenomena all can cause extensive damage to property or loss of life.
Experts estimate about six hurricanes form over the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean, or Caribbean Sea during the hurricane season. The season is from June 1 to November 30.
The Hurricane Research Division of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory say “hurricane” and “typhoon” are just regional names for the same type of storm activity, tropical cyclones. Tropical storms that occur over a certain area of the Pacific Ocean are called typhoons. The same storms over the Atlantic Ocean are called hurricanes.
Beginning in 1953, the World Meteorological Association, a branch of the United Nations, became responsible for maintaining a rotating list of names for hurricanes. At first, only female names were used. Beginning in 1979, men’s names were alternated with the women’s names.
Each year has a designated list of names that is reused after six years. For example, the storm name list used in 2018 will be reused in 2024.
If a storm is particularly destructive or deadly, the World Meteorological Association will retire names from usage. In April 2018, the association announced the names Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate, used in the 2017 hurricane season, will be replaced with Harold, Idalia, Margot and Nigel.
The name “hurricane” was derived from the Caribbean god’s name, Huracán. He was the god of storms in Mayan culture and was apparently commonly depicted as only having one leg.
Some of the most deadly and destructive hurricanes in history, according to the National Weather Service, are:
Galveston, 1900 — Not as much information is available about the Galveston hurricane as more modern storms, but experts believe the storm was a category four hurricane when it struck Galveston Island on Sept. 8, 1900. The entire island was flooded under 8 to 15 feet of water. Estimates of the deaths range from 6,000 to 12,000 people. This was the deadliest recorded storm in U.S. history and cost the people of Galveston around $30 million. Oral histories from some of the survivors of this disaster can be heard at Galveston’s Rosenberg Library. The stories include memories of slate tiles ripped off roofs and turned into veritable saw blades by the wind.
New England, 1938 — Also nicknamed the “Long Island Express”, this category three hurricane struck New England on Sept. 21, 1938. With 40-foot waves and winds above 100 mph, an estimated 9,000 homes were destroyed and 700 people were killed. Katharine Hepburn‘s beach house in Connecticut was among the destroyed property when it was literally swept out to sea. She rebuilt it in 1939. The damage across multiple states was estimated at $306 million. After passing through New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, the storm finally dissipated over Canada.
Hurricane Camille, 1969 — Camille made landfall along the Mississippi coast on Aug. 17, 1969, after blowing through Cuba and the Gulf of Mexico. It destroyed the wind measuring instruments along the coast so an exact measurement is unknown, but winds were estimated at 200 mph. This storm was notable because it formed and developed into a category five strength storm in only two days. Camille caused around $1.42 billion in damages and killed 244 people. A false news story was created about Camille when Walter Cronkite went to Pass Christian, Miss., shortly after the storm and reported a “storm party” had taken place in the Richelieu Manor Apartments and the 23 celebrants had been killed. According to The Times-Picayune newspaper, Cronkite said, “This is the place where 23 people laughed in the face of death. And where 23 people died.” Later, survivors from the apartment complex said the alleged party never happened.
Hurricane Andrew, 1992 — Scientists believe Andrew began as a tropical wave off of the African coast in August 1992. The storm built in speed and intensity as it crossed the Atlantic. By the time it struck the Bahamas and southern Florida, Andrew was a category five storm with estimated wind speeds of 145 mph. Experts estimate a storm surge as high as 16.9 feet struck the Burger King Corporate Headquarters, which is located on Biscayne Bay. Approximately 65 people died either directly or indirectly from the storm and property damage costs were estimated at $25 billion. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, when Andrew passed over the Louisiana Atchafalaya River Basin, which is the largest hardwood swamp in the country, 80 percent of the trees near the coast were knocked down. An estimated 182 million freshwater fish died in the river basin when the storm stirred up the hydrogen sulfide from the sediment of the swamp.
Hurricane Katrina, 2005 — According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hurricane Katrina was the costliest hurricane on record to hit the United States. On Aug. 29, 2005, Katrina struck Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama with winds estimated at 125 mph. The damage inflicted on New Orleans has been recorded as “devastating”. An estimated 80 percent of the city was flooded. Approximately 1,833 people died across the storm-ravaged area, most of these in the New Orleans area. The storm cost a staggering $96 billion. The Belleville News-Democrat reported more than 10,000 people who lived in the path of Katrina came to Illinois seeking refuge. About 2,500 of those who relocated, stayed here.
On a personal note, my last day at the Belleville News-Democrat was Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. It has been an honor and a privilege writing “Ask Heidi” and other archive pieces for the paper and website for the last year and a half. I resigned my position at the BND to pursue a digital business with my family. I will be writing episodes and assisting in the management of the YouTube Channel, “The History Guy: History Deserves to be Remembered”.